Embracing Generative AI: Transforming HR Functions

Here is an edited version of the conference presentation I gave at HRAI Connect 2023

Thank you so much for having me here today. My name is David Orban. I am the founder and CEO of Actioneer, an AI-powered startup coaching and data-driven investor platform. As we heard from the introduction, today I want to give you an overview of not only how specifically HR functions in a corporation can and indeed must use artificial intelligence and more specifically, generative AI, but also provide context on why this is happening today and why it is an unstoppable transformation that you must embrace across your entire organization. For me, these are opportunities not only to deliver a talk, but also to engage in conversations that I hope can continue. I invite all of you to reach out via any of the many possible communications channels. I’m easy to find and will welcome your follow-up questions even days or weeks after this event. You can also download my slides at http://actioneer.ai/HRAI23 or take a screenshot of the QR code and access the PDF on your phone. As a gift, I’m happy to send you an electronic copy of the book I wrote about the social implications of AI a few years ago, which is still a valid guidebook for the rapidly arriving future.

So why is AI today a strategic necessity for corporations? A few years ago, you could have dismissed AI as something not to worry about yet. The signal-to-noise ratio meant the benefits of adopting some AI tools were not sufficient. But with the accelerating change of disruptive technologies, AI products are now accessible to anyone and represent immense power levers you can and must use across your organization. To illustrate, I’ll reference a Stanford University report from four years ago showing how companies like OpenAI and Google use increasingly vast amounts of computation to train their systems. On the supply side, companies like NVIDIA, whose founder and CEO Jensen Huang recently spoke of an “AI iPhone moment,” are keeping pace. This screenshot from a recent Jensen presentation shows NVIDIA increased its hardware power a million-fold in 10 years. We’re used to Moore’s Law doubling computing power every two years for better photos and videos. But if NVIDIA only followed that, in 10 years they’d have achieved just a few hundred-fold increase. However, I learned at a recent dinner that NVIDIA uses AI itself to improve its hardware, helping everyone apply AI. That’s why rather than a few hundred-fold improvement in 10 years, they achieved a million-fold, and now aim for 10 million-fold. These are “jolting” technologies, beyond exponential or super-exponential. We need new words to describe their progress and power. So today, rather than delegate AI to specialists taking months or years for incremental improvement, we can use widely available tools to boost productivity, reach previously unimaginable goals, and more.

Underpinning this is AI’s new ability to handle data like natural language and images, the bread and butter of HR in understanding human expression, whether written, spoken, or emotions. This is now possible with generative AI. However, as sci-fi author William Gibson says, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” In an organization, whoever adopts AI tools first, whether experimenting with chatbots or generating images, must share and get buy-in from other departments. The AI revolution will empower you and colleagues across departments, though there will be differences. It should drive curiosity and experimentation across all. Whether recruiting, analyzing and pushing teams to acquire skills via new interactive AI learning methods, evaluating talent, or enhancing the talent pool, AI-powered activities must be measured. While AI now handles unstructured data, we can’t just chat or generate slides and be satisfied. As always when improving, we understand progress through measurement, analyzing effects scientifically and avoiding biases. Of course, biases remain an issue with AI. You’ve heard how today’s systems can make dangerous mistakes with incorrect responses, especially regarding ethics around issues like gender, equity, and evaluating job candidates. However, I’m optimistic AI helps us better understand and control the biases we unavoidably have. Before AI, we lacked this clear “mirror” reflecting our ethical fallacies. AI enables concrete steps to overcome them, improving itself simultaneously. In closing, I encourage concrete steps to adopt and experiment with AI in your daily work. I coined “actioneer” to denote innovators who want to innovate to help themselves and others stake a claim in the future. We all must adapt to rapidly changing times, extending our adaptability beyond what we’ve done before.

The future’s toolset is here now. It’s up to us to feel empowered by it, become fluent in its use, and share our learnings. I believe AI-enhanced HR is among the most important functions for human dignity. We’ve seen huge 20th and 21st century changes, but the next few years could be dramatically positive with your help embracing and shaping technology for human purpose. Thank you for pioneering this technology and taking dynamic action in adopting, implementing, and evolving it.